UN releases first "state of plastics" report on World Environment Day

June 6, 2018 by  
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The United Nations has released its first-ever global plastics report on June 5th, World Environment Day. Well-timed and thematically coordinated, the UN “state of plastics” report debuted for this year’s theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution.” Officially named Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability , the report documents the efforts of more than 60 countries to fight plastic pollution by implementing bans or taxes on single-use plastic items, concluding that such policies are the most effective means to reduce plastic usage. “The assessment shows that action can be painless and profitable — with huge gains for people and the planet that help avert the costly downstream costs of pollution,” head of UN Environment Erik Solheim wrote in the report. “Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.” In addition to assessing policy solutions, the report also outlines the current state of plastic recycling and disposal. According to the report, only 9 percent of plastic is recycled, while 79 percent of all plastic ends up in landfills, garbage dumps or in the natural world. Twelve percent is incinerated, resulting in pollutants that enter the atmosphere and affect environmental health. Of particular concern is the use of plastic bags, which often block water ways, provide disease-spreading insects with a place to breed and harm wildlife. Related: Pilot whale dies in Thailand with more than 17 pounds of plastic in its stomach Of the countries that have implemented plastic bag bans or taxes, 50 percent were not able to provide data to effectively evaluate the policy impact. Thirty percent of the total countries reported that their policies reduced the use of plastic bags within a year of implementation, while 20 percent said that their policy changes had little effect. This lack of impact may be due to poor enforcement or simply that consumers don’t have access to affordable alternatives. The report highlights the success of Morocco , in which an enforced ban resulted in the seizure of 421 tons of plastic bags and a near-total replacement of plastic bags with fabric. The report recommends that bans and taxes be supplemented with improved waste management, a circular plastic production and consumption model, and financial benefits dispersed to businesses and consumers to encourage the development and adoption of plastic alternatives. + UN Environment Via Ecowatch Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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UN releases first "state of plastics" report on World Environment Day

The latest champion in the battle against climate change: fast food burgers

June 6, 2018 by  
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Swedish fast food chain Max Burgers (MAX) made headlines around a decade ago when it started labeling menu items with carbon footprints. Now, the company is launching what it describes as climate-positive burgers . MAX says it  plants trees to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the total emissions of its products. MAX CEO Richard Bergfors said in a statement, “We know that we are part of the problem and together with our guests, we can now be part of the solution.” Climate-positive burgers will pop up this month in just over 130 restaurants around the world — MAX, founded in 1968 in Sweden , now boasts joints in Norway, Denmark, Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Here’s how the company plans to make its menu offerings good for the environment . First, it measures all product emissions, including waste from meals and emissions generated when employees and guests travel to and from MAX restaurants. The company then works in various ways to lower emissions, such as recycling frying oil into biodiesel , recycling heat in restaurants and introducing a Green Family of burgers made with vegetables, beans or Halloumi cheese. Finally, MAX says it captures at least 110 percent of its emissions by planting trees. Related: Swiss grocery store chain will be the first to sell insect burgers “The reasoning behind the launch of climate-positive burgers is simple: climate change on our planet is out of control, and we need to stabilize it,” Bergfors said. “To meet the two-degree climate goal set out in the Paris Agreement , the world needs to work harder at cutting emissions and start the work of clearing greenhouse gases that have already been emitted into the atmosphere. Just going carbon neutral is not enough anymore.” One out of three of MAX meals sold today don’t have red meat , according to the company, and the goal is that by 2022, every other meal won’t have red meat. The chain thinks that hitting this target could allow it to reduce emissions by 30 percent in seven years. MAX is also behind an initiative called Clipop , with New Zealand car-sharing company Mevo , to register climate positive products from around the world. The team hopes more companies will get on board. + MAX Climate-Positive + Rethink Burgers + Clipop Images courtesy of Max Burgers

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The latest champion in the battle against climate change: fast food burgers

Pilot whale dies in Thailand with more than 17 pounds of plastic in its stomach

June 5, 2018 by  
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A small male pilot whale, found unable to breath or move in a canal in Thailand  last week, has died from large amounts of plastic clogging its digestive system. After being found near the Malaysia border, the pilot whale was treated by veterinarians while kept afloat by buoys and protected from harmful solar radiation by umbrellas. Despite days of effort, the whale ultimately passed away, but not before vomiting up five plastic bags. Upon post-mortem investigation, it was discovered that the whale had ingested more than 17 pounds of plastic, including 80 shopping bags, which had inhibited its ability to eat. Scientists believe that the pilot whale mistakenly identified plastic as food, eating it until full. “At some point their stomach fills up with trash and they can’t eat real food,” Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director for Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s North American operations, told National Geographic . “You’re not getting any nutrients in and you’ve basically completely clogged your digestive system.” This particular whale’s death is symbolic of a much larger problem plaguing marine life. “We have no idea how many animals aren’t showing up on a beach ,” Asmutis-Silvia said. “This is one pilot whale, this doesn’t consider other species. It’s symbolic at best, but it’s symbolic of an incredibly significant problem.” Related: Orca learns to mimic human speech for the first time About 18 billion pounds of plastic are dumped into oceans each year, while more than 300 marine animal species are known to have been killed by plastic pollution in Thailand’s waters. The Thai government has proposed enacting a tax on plastic bags to reduce the amount of plastic polluting the world’s waters. In addition to policy changes, individuals and communities are encouraged to fight plastic pollution by recycling and reducing their own plastic use. Saving the whales, which are known as the gardeners of the sea for their role in fertilizing oceanic ecosystems, is in humanity’s self interest. “It should be a huge red flag for us as a species,” warned Asmutis-Silvia, “that we need to stop killing ourselves.” Via National Geographic Images via Barney Moss and Ron Knight

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UN creates a new global climate change coalition

June 1, 2018 by  
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Earth has a “30-year window of opportunity” to tackle climate change, according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) secretary-general Petteri Taalas. He called for greater urgency in carrying out the Paris Agreement as the leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) together with WMO launched a brand-new climate change coalition. Every year 12.6 million people perish due to environmental risks — air pollution in particular — and the group aims to lower that number. Average temperatures in 2017 were 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the UN, while global average concentrations of carbon dioxide were greater than 400 parts per million (ppm). Taalas said climate change is impacting developing countries — the cost of natural disasters reached a new record in 2017. The three UN organizations already work together, but under the new coalition will strengthen action on guarding health from climate change- and environment -related risks. Taalas, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and UNEP executive director Erik Solheim came together to form the coalition and spoke to delegates at the World Health Assembly about opportunities and challenges to come. Related: 95% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air Air pollution is one such challenge. Around seven million people die prematurely each year from diseases related to air pollution, such as respiratory illness, cancer, heart disease, or strokes. According to the UN, in many of the world’s major cities, air pollution is higher than WHO air quality standards. Pollutants which threaten human health also contribute to climate change and damage the environment — examples are waste incineration or black carbon from diesel engines. The UN said lowering what they called short-lived climate pollutant emissions coming from agriculture, traffic, industry, or cookstoves, for example, “could help trim the rate of global warming by about 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.” Solheim said, “If we speed up on renewable energy solutions, fewer people will die from air pollution. Let’s create a pollution-free environment.” One of the coalition’s first outcomes will be a Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health , which will take place at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from October 30 to November 1. + United Nations Climate Change Images via Depositphotos

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Levels of ozone-destroying CFCs are mysteriously rising

May 17, 2018 by  
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Globally banned by the Montreal protocol in 1987 for their ozone-destroying properties, chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals are experiencing a comeback. In recent years, levels of CFCs have increased suddenly and mysteriously. Now, scientists are racing to determine the source of the problem. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researcher Stephen Montzka discovered this unusual trend. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he told the Guardian . “I was just shocked by it. We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why.” There is global concern that this unexplained CFC revival could do serious environmental damage. “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer,” head of UN Environment Erik Solheim told the Guardian . “It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.” After investigating several explanations, researchers now suggest that the new CFC production is taking place somewhere in East Asia . Related: Antarctic ozone layer shows “first fingerprints of healing” The second most damaging CFC chemical , CFC-11, has most notably been on the rise. It is possible that the investigation will lead to a shutdown of the CFC production even before the exact source is determined. “I have a feeling that we will find out fairly quickly what exactly is going on and that the situation will be remedied,” Montzka said. “Somebody who was maybe doing it purposefully will realize — oh, someone is paying attention — and stop doing it.” + National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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The Keystone Pipeline leak was nearly twice as big as we thought

April 9, 2018 by  
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New reports show that nearly twice as much crude oil leaked from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota last November than originally estimated. TransCanada spokesperson Robynn Tysver said that roughly 9,700 barrels of oil leaked instead of the estimated 5,000 barrels. This new information means the leak is among the biggest onshore spills in the United States since 2010. There are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil, so instead of 210,000 gallons as was originally estimated, around 407,700 gallons leaked in what TransCanada refers to as the Amherst incident . This means the spill was the “seventh largest onshore oil or petroleum product spills” reported to the United States Department of Transportation since 2010, according to Aberdeen American News. Related: Keystone 1 oil pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons days ahead of Keystone XL permit decision TransCanada started utilizing the pipeline again 12 days following the leak. Tysver told American News, “The remediation work on the property has been completed. We have replaced the last of the topsoil and have seeded the impacted area.” The Amherst incident cost the company around $9.57 million, according to the news publication, citing an updated pipeline safety administration report. TransCanada said on their website they sampled groundwater at 12 monitoring wells and there “was no impact to groundwater.” The Keystone Pipeline connects oil fields in Alberta, Canada to refineries in the United States; Reuters described it as a 590,000 barrel-per-day pipeline. Aberdeen American News said according to a preliminary report, the pipe may have been damaged in 2008, during construction. Reuters said they had reviewed documents revealing Keystone has leaked far more oil, and more frequently, “than the company indicated to regulators in risk assessments” before operations started in 2010. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration , part of the Department of Transportation, could release the final report on the leak in the upcoming few weeks. Via Aberdeen News and Reuters Images via TransCanada

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The Keystone Pipeline leak was nearly twice as big as we thought

Elon Musk warns AI could become an immortal’ digital dictator

April 9, 2018 by  
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As if the world didn’t have enough dictators to worry about, Elon Musk  says that our future authoritarian leaders will be AI. Musk has previously warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence , particularly if control of it is concentrated the hands of a power-hungry global elite. He suggests that an AI dictator would know everything about us (thanks to being connected to computers across the planet), would be more dangerous to the world than North Korea and would unleash “weapons of terror” that could lead to the next world war. To top it all off, unlike human dictators, an AI dictator would never die. According to Musk, this dark future awaits us if we don’t regulate AI. “The least scary future I can think of is one where we have at least democratized AI because if one company or small group of people manages to develop godlike digital superintelligence, they could take over the world,” Musk said in the new documentary  Do You Trust This Computer ? “At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there would be no death. It would live forever. And then you’d have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape.” The documentary in which Musk is quoted focuses on several potentially hazardous applications of artificial intelligence, including the stock market, fake news algorithms, and autonomous weapons. In the film, Musk cites Google ‘s DeepMind project as an example of a powerful company in pursuit of superintelligence, or AI that is truly smarter than a human being. DeepMind has already achieved several milestones, including the 2016 defeat of world champion Lee Se-dol by AlphaGo in the board game Go. “The DeepMind system can win at any game ,” explained Musk. “It can already beat all the original Atari games. It is super human; it plays all the games at super speed in less than a minute.” Related: Elon Musk says trips to Mars coming as soon as next year Musk clarifies that this is not necessarily a question of good or evil, at least regarding the AI itself. “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings,” Musk said. “It’s just like, if we’re building a road and an anthill just happens to be in the way, we don’t hate ants , we’re just building a road, and so, goodbye anthill.” Musk suggests that humans ultimately incorporate artificial intelligence into their very being to avoid becoming redundant. Putting his money where his mouth is, Musk is the co-founder of Neuralink that is reportedly interested in accomplishing Musk’s goal of merging the human brain to a computer. Via CNBC Images via  Steve Jurvetson/Flickr   WebSummit/Flickr and Depositphotos

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The CO2 intensity of the US power sector just hit a record low

April 9, 2018 by  
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Renewable energy is winning again. The Power Sector Carbon Index just revealed that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity is the lowest on record. Thanks to government policy, market forces and new technologies, energy companies have moved away from carbon-intensive coal and towards cleaner, greener energy like renewables and natural gas. And the numbers aren’t insignificant – 13 years ago, carbon intensity was nearly 27% higher than it is now. Carbon emissions intensity is the rate of emissions produced relative to the amount of energy that we get from it. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) released their 2018 Carnegie Mellon Power Sector Carbon Index — which tracks power producers’ environmental performance in the United States, and compares today’s emissions to over 20 years of historical data. Assistant professor Costa Samaras said in a statement , “The Carnegie Mellon Power Sector Carbon Index provides a snapshot of critical data regarding energy production and environmental performance. We’ve found this index to provide significant insight into trends in power generation and emissions. In particular, the data have shown that emissions intensity has fallen to the lowest level on record, as a combination of natural gas and renewable power have displaced more carbon-intensive coal -fired power generation.” Related: 104% of Portugal’s electricity consumption in March came from renewable energy Specifically, emissions of power plants in America averaged 967 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh) last year. That figure is 3.1 percent lower than 2016, and 26.8 percent lower than in 2005, “often used as a benchmark year for measuring progress made in reducing emissions,” according to the university. The 2017 fourth quarter (Q4) update from the university, also posted in early April, offers more insight into how renewables are playing a role. In Q4, power plant emissions actually averaged 952 pounds of CO2 per MWh. And compared against 2016 Q4, in 2017 Q4 coal generation dropped six percent, natural gas was up four percent, nuclear up four percent, hydro up one percent, wind up 13 percent, and solar up 30 percent. MHPS Americas CEO Paul Browning said, “The power industry has made significant progress in reducing emissions for over a decade, as new technology, state and federal policies and market forces have increased power generation from natural gas and renewables, and decreased power generation from coal.” + Power Sector Carbon Index + Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering + Power Sector Carbon Index — 2017 Q4 Update Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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The CO2 intensity of the US power sector just hit a record low

Thoreau’s Walden Pond is under threat from human activities

April 6, 2018 by  
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In his book first published as  Walden; or, Life in the Woods , transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau reflected on living simply in green spaces while cultivating self-sufficiency and carefully observing the natural world. His reflections were informed by his experiences living in a cabin near the edge of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts . Today, Walden Pond remains a cherished local landmark, where people enjoy hiking and swimming. However, since Thoreau’s time, Walden Pond has suffered from climate change,  erosion  and even human pee. In the mid-1800s, Thoreau described the “crystalline purity” of the water in Walden Pond, a characteristic still observable today. However, that may soon change as the effects of climate change take hold. In  a recently published paper on the environmental health of Walden Pond , researchers concluded that major changes in the algal content of the lake began in the 20th century and continue to threaten it today. According to the paper, “The sediment darkening and high percentages of [ algae ] in the recent sediments of Walden Pond … indicate not only that the lake ecosystem is now quite different from that described by Thoreau but also that it may be primed for more severe reductions in water clarity in a warming future.” Related: Thresher sharks die in Massachusetts – likely due to cold shock As global temperatures continue to rise , more people looking for relief from the humid summer weather in Massachusetts may find their way into the pond for a refreshing dip. Researchers concluded that more than half of the phosphorous content in the pond “may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers.” The good news is that Walden Pond has seen its environmental health improve in recent decades. However, vigilance is necessary to preserve Walden for future generations. Via The Guardian Images via Ekabhishek , Terryballard and Cbaile19

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The world’s first space hotel could launch by 2022

April 6, 2018 by  
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We’ve all heard of the companies promising to launch humans on trips to space , but have you thought about where you will stay once you get there? Startup Orion Span thinks they have the answer – and they’re planning to launch a luxury space hotel into orbit in the next few years. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, start saving your pennies – a 12-night stay will set you back a mere $9.5 million PER PERSON. But don’t worry, the price includes transportation, food and drinks, and a three-month training course. The Aurora Station hotel will be able to accommodate four guests at a time, plus two crew members. The station will float above the Earth in low orbit (about 200 miles above the planet – 50 miles below the ISS) and the company claims it will be ready to start hosting guests by 2022. That’s extremely soon – keep in mind that other companies have set lofty goals for space hotels that didn’t quite get realized . The company plans to start with one station and expand as demand grows. If you want to book your stay right away, 80k will hold you a spot until the hotel is built and launched. Related: Elon Musk says trips to Mars coming as soon as next year Speaking of, Orion Span hasn’t provided much in the way of details for its space hotel. For instance, the company says it plans to manufacture the station at a Houston facility that hasn’t been built yet. Nor has it disclosed how it plans to transport people to the station – it seems likely that it will team up with one of the companies who is developing private space travel. Even still, it’s a pretty exciting idea, and not a bad price considering that it costs $81 million for an astronaut to hitch a ride to the ISS on a Russian rocket. Via Engadget Images via Orion Span

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